'Cruel and perverse': Human rights group Liberty slams council's begging ban in Luton town centre

Human rights group Liberty has slammed Luton Borough Council's begging ban in the town centre, labelling it a "harmful and disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable people in Luton".

By Stewart Carr
Monday, 3rd February 2020, 1:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:42 am

The council is undergoing a public consultation to toughen up the existing Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) as well as extend it to the area around the Galaxy Centre.

Solicitors from Liberty wrote to the council on January 30, slamming the proposed variations on the PSPO - which would allow beggars to be fined.

Liberty claims the council has failed to produce any evidence that the current ban is working or that strengthening the PSPO will produce benefits, leaving it vulnerable to a High Court challenge.

Luton town centre

Liberty stated: "If the council has found its prohibition on begging to be ineffective in providing longer term behaviour change so far, that is because PSPOs are an inappropriate tool for addressing begging.

"The proposed variation will simply allow fixed penalty notices for begging without first having to ask the person to stop begging.

"It is unclear how the council expects the proposed variation to provide 'longer term behaviour change'.

"People who resort to begging are likely to be doing so as a result of poverty, addiction and/or other mental health issues. They are also highly unlikely to be able to pay a FPN or Magistrates' Court fine, and a resulting criminal conviction will do nothing to alleviate their poverty or address the underlying causes of their behaviour.

"Furthermore, it would be particularly cruel and perverse for those caught begging in violation of their PSPO to have to pay their fine using what little money they might have saved from charitable donations."

The letter also criticises the "vague wording" of the PSPO and questions whether someone sitting on a pavement looking dishevelled would be deemed in breach.

Luton Borough Council's consultation runs until February 5 and can be accessed here for further information or to submit comments.

An existing PSPO set up by Bournmouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is currently subject to a challenge in the High Court.

A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: "Luton Council appreciates that the circumstances which lead vulnerable individuals to beg can be complex and require specialist support. As partners in Big Change, an initiative of the Luton Homeless Partnership, which was launched in December 2019, we are committed to giving long-term support to organisations which help those who are sleeping rough and experiencing homelessness.

"The current PSPO in relation to begging adopts a failure to stop approach which means that a person only breaches the PSPO if they do not stop begging when asked to by an authorised officer. The proposals would allow the council to issue fixed penalty notices to people who are begging, but there will be other options available which include issuing warnings and using restorative justice measures such as referring individuals to support services."

> What do you think? Should the PSPO be extended to act as a deterrent or are other options available? Email your views to [email protected]