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Hackney backs down

July 05 2015
The London council has stepped back from threatening rough sleepers with a £1,000 fine

A London council has stepped back from threatening rough sleepers with a £1,000 fine following widespread criticism, a petition which attracted 80,000 signatures and a public protest.

People bedding down in some areas of Hackney had risked being hit with a £100 fixed penalty notice or being taken to court and fined up to £1,000  after the council introduced a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) at the end of April.

Hackney council said its PSPO was designed to tackle antisocial behaviour linked to street drinking and persistent rough sleeping. The order allowed police or council officers to stop people from doing a range of things, including begging, having a dog off a lead causing a nuisance, and “sleeping rough in doorways or other public places”.

Homelessness charities and local campaigners had spoken out against the order, which they said would criminalise vulnerable people and could prevent them from accessing services intended to help them.

A petition against the inclusion of rough sleepers under the PSPO attracted more than 80,000 signatures in its first week, and the campaign received support from musician Ellie Goulding, who encouraged her twitter followers to sign it.

The lobby group Hackney Digs, which represents renters in Hackney, had organised a demonstration at the town hall to take place on 22 June.

But the council changed its plans on 5 June, deleting references to rough sleeping from the order.

Zahira Patel, a paralegal working in civil liberties who grew up near Hackney and who set up the petition, said of the amendment: “It’s great news. I do believe that other parts of the PSPO remain problematic – such as the fact that begging remains in it – but I’m very pleased that rough sleeping will no longer be included.”

Digs activist Heather Kennedy said: “We’re glad Hackney council has seen the error of their ways. But Hackney council have neither apologised nor recognised why it has caused such a groundswell of public outrage.

“Worse still, the amended order can and will be used to target street people and criminalise their existence in public space. People sleeping rough often have no choice but to beg and urinate in public places. The council have plenty of other powers to target anti-social behaviour. This order is designed to penalise vulnerable people and is an attack on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in public.

“It shouldn’t have had to take 80k people signing a petition, and threat of direct action and protests to make Hackney Council treat rough sleepers with a little human dignity."

PSPOs were introduced in 2014 to give councils more powers to tackle antisocial behaviour. So far councils have primarily used them to target street drinking, but other activities including busking and taking legal highs in public have also been considered for inclusion.

 

Recently Oxford city council consulted on including persistent rough sleepers in the terms of a PSPO in the city centre, but dropped the policy following a campaign similar to that in Hackney.

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