COUNCILS have been accused of practising a "form of social cleansing" by acquiring the power to issue fines of up to £100 for rough sleeping, begging and loitering.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) continue to be passed by local authorities to crack down on acts associated with homelessness despite Home Office guidance not to target society's most vulnerable.

Human rights group Liberty said it was a "particularly cruel way to respond to people's poverty."

Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighouse said: "PSPOs are a very blunt instrument - they can only lead to people being fined.

"We also worry in a lot of ways it's a form of social cleansing."

Some cash-strapped councils seem to see it as a tool to improve the image of the town and boost tourism, she added.

Last year, despite strong opposition from campaigners, the Borough of Poole introduced a PSPO for the town centre and Holes Bay area.

The council, which has since merged into the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council, argued the move was necessary to tackle antisocial behaviour in the town.

The order, which remains in place, prohibits begging for money, food or drink. It also bans people from using a receptacle for begging, leaving belongings unattended, possessing or supplying intoxicating substances, and behaviour likely to cause nuisance, harassment, alarm or distress to others.

At the time of its launch, Cllr Karen Rampton, who was the cabinet portfolio holder for housing and communities, said: "We are aware of the increase in anti-social behaviour in the town centre and Holes Bay areas and the PSPO is a tool we can use, amongst others, to tackle this behaviour.

"The PSPO will not be used to target any specific group such as those people sleeping rough."

In the first three months of the PSPO being implemented, no fines were issued for begging. However, 57 verbal warnings were issued and 27 warning letters handed out.

Thirteen people were also ordered to leave an area covered by the PSPO.

New figures show councils have made a record number of PSPOs, criminalising acts such as swearing, feeding the birds, and cycling in public spaces, according to a civil liberties group which has dubbed the orders a "busybodies' charter".

Meanwhile, figures obtained by civil liberties group the Manifesto Club through Freedom of Information requests to every council in England and Wales show:

n Some 276 new orders were made by 147 councils between August 2017 and January 2019 (an 18-month period), an average of 15 per month.

n This compares with 189 PSPOs introduced by 107 councils between March 2016 to July 2017 (a 17-month period), averaging at 11 per month.

n And between November 2014 to February 2016 (a 16-month period), some 130 PSPOs were issued by 79 councils, an average of eight per month.

Manifesto Club director Josie Appleton said: "Thousands of people are being criminalised for actions such as sitting on the floor, appealing for charity donations, or asking for casual work.

"PSPOs often target the homeless and others who lack the power to defend themselves.

"These orders are illiberal, scary and a public joke."

Graham Duggan, Head of Community Protection at Dorset Council said: “Issues from begging, especially aggressive behaviour, have previously been identified by residents; shop owners the police and council in Weymouth town centre.

"Responses to public consultations made it clear that measures were wanted to deter this activity. Fixed penalty notices are issued only as a last resort – we work closely with individuals to engage them with support services and into a better way of life.”

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