Guardian | In a new era of official nastiness, it’s suddenly a crime to be homeless

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10 March 2016

In a new era of official nastiness, it’s suddenly a crime to be homeless

 

by John Harris

Instead of addressing the causes of homelessness, local authorities are using public space protection orders to displace, fine and punish the vulnerable.

Illustration of person sleeping on bench

 ‘All over the country, police and local councils are criminalising begging and rough sleeping, seemingly trying to push such mounting problems out of sight.’ Photograph: Nate Kitch

week ago, a case involving a homeless man called Ashley Hackett was thrown out of court in Brighton. He had been arrested by a plain-clothes police officer for asking a passer-by for 10p, an episode that triggered reports about Sussex police arresting 60 people on similar grounds in 2015 alone.

The story exploded in the pages of the Brighton Argus: local MP Caroline Lucas said she could not see “how criminalising desperate people for begging is helpful”; 30,000 people signed a petition decrying the policy responsible – and then, in the final denouement, prosecutors decided that the case was not in the public interest, and a district judge called time on the whole pathetic affair. In among the small print, there lurked truly Kafkaesque details, such as Hackett’s lawyer’s insistence that “he pleaded not guilty to begging because the offence says you’ve got to place yourself in that location to beg. He says he’s homeless and that’s where he lives.”

Unfortunately, the end of that case will probably have no effect on a monstrous shift in policy and official attitudes towards homeless people being rolled out around the country. As in-depth reporting in the Guardian this week has highlighted, rough-sleeping in England is up nearly a third year-on-year, and the figures have doubled since 2010: a plainly shameful fact that underlines the sense of a government locked into a grim re-enactment of the 1980s. Meanwhile, all over the country, police and local councils are criminalising begging and rough sleeping, seemingly trying to push such mounting problems out of sight.

Which brings us to a particularly horrible policy instrument known as public space protection orders (or PSPOs), brought in by the coalition government in 2014. As with New Labour’s antisocial behaviour orders, this new legal invention creates opportunities to criminalise hitherto non-criminal behaviour – but instead of Asbos’ focus on individuals, PSPOs are defined by particular areas.

The basic idea is simple enough. Designate a particular area, specify the behaviour you want to outlaw, and you’re off. In certain areas of Nottinghamshire, Bassetlaw’s Labour council has prohibited people under 16 “gathering in groups of three or more”; in Hillingdon, the Tories who run the borough have criminalised feeding pigeons in the park and, for young people in certain places, “gathering in groups of two or more persons unless going to or from a parked vehicle or waiting for a scheduled bus at a designated bus stop”. Obviously, those actions look comically draconian. But when PSPOs are applied to homeless people, the sense of punitive nastiness goes off the scale.

We are essentially talking about the policy equivalent of those spikes now affixed to modern buildings as a matter of course, in case anyone thinks of bedding down for the night. In Folkestone in Kent, a PSPO covers drinking, rough sleeping and begging; the latter is also a potential criminal act in Corby, Swindon and Oxford (where the council says it only applies to “aggressive” begging, though that includes simply asking for money near a cashpoint). In Wrexham, similar sanctions now apply to sleeping in a town centre park. Failure to comply entails a possible on-the-spot fine of £100 – this is for homeless people, let’s not forget – and, if the case goes to court, a penalty of up to £1,000. It is seemingly too early for cases to start colliding with the judicial system, but when they do, the waste of public money and chaotic fallout will speak for itself.

Nonetheless, the idea is catching on. Recent Freedom of Information requests by the Vice website discovered that at least 36 local councils in England and Wales “have introduced or are working on PSPOs which criminalise activities linked to homelessness”. In some places, there has been loud controversy about what is afoot: protests in Exeter, a U-turn in Newport, and another successful campaign in Hackney, east London, that last year forced the councilto back down.

But all too often there’s a sense of dull inevitability: in the absence of any real local or national scrutiny, councils do what they like, and no one really cares. Put another way: these days, if something happens in Corby, Swindon or Wrexham, can it really be said to have happened at all?

Moreover, as the Brighton case proves, the story runs much wider than PSPOs. Aside from London and Bristol, the city I visit most often is Manchester, where rough sleeping has exploded and, despite a more enlightened attitude to homeless people than you see in some other places, the city council and local landlords spent some of 2015 locked into an on-off game of injunctions, clearances, and ongoing bad feeling.

As a dry space long used by homeless people was suddenly cleared and fenced off – which is how it remains – and protest camps set up by homeless people spread across the city, the council won an injunction against anyone pitching a tent, which went as far as listing the items (sleeping bags, cardboard boxes) that were still permitted, and led to homeless people facing fines of up to £5,000. When I last visited, a new canvas encampment had sprung up on land owned by Manchester University, close to Piccadilly station: a fragile mini-shanty town, symbolising the fact that in the surrounding regenerated wonderland, scores of homeless people seem to have been reduced to an inconvenience.

At the heart of all this, there is often a kind of municipal Trump-ism, whereby police and crime commissioners, senior officers and politicians of all parties affect a crass language of crackdowns and zero tolerance, while doing little to get to grips with the actual issue. Obviously, they can account for their actions in terms of austerity: if average local authority funding for services helping people avoid homelessness was cut by 45% between 2010 and 2015, and homelessness and rough-sleeping are reaching such uncontrollable heights, what else can they do?

The answer to that is simple enough: whatever your intentions, once you start blankly criminalising people who need serious and wide-ranging help, you surely risk shutting down any argument for that kind of assistance ever returning. Fines and arrests back up the rightwing idea of character failure; George Osborne sleeps that bit more easily.

Here, though, is perhaps the most awful aspect of what’s happening. If the official attitude to people who sleep on the streets looks like cold contempt, we shouldn’t be all that surprised if that is reflected not just in public indifference and hostility, but in outright acts of inhumanity.

Back in Brighton, this week brought news of a homeless man suffering burnsafter his sleeping bag and cardboard shelter were set on fire. Vulnerability to violence is often at the heart of living without a home: if we reduce people to being annoying untouchables, maybe that’s the kind of terrible thing that will happen more often.

 

FOI Request 3216696 | The cost of a Traffic Regulation Order

Over the past 4 years  as a councillor, I have spent a couple of years on and off sitting on Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee [HATOC].

The remit of Exeter HATOC is set out in Part 3 of Devon County Coucil’s Constitution.

Under the terms of reference 9.17, Exeter HATOC has the power – within the general strategy, polices and operating procedures of DCC – to exercise various powers of the Highway Authority delegated by the Cabinet, including:

(3) To approve details and implement Traffic Regulation Orders, and schemes for the control of parking on the highway and to be involved in the development of proposals for park and ride schemes.

A Traffic Regulation Order [TRO] is a written legal document made under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and all other enabling powers, by the Local Authority under its powers as a Highway Authority to support any enforceable traffic or highways measures including: speed limits, on-street parking, one way streets and other restrictions.

Failure to comply with the requirements of a TRO , as indicated by signs or road markings, is an offence that may result in the issue of a Penalty Charge Notice, by a Civil Enforcement Officer, or prosecution by the Police.

Most traffic regulation orders come about as a result of input from local communities and the police, to address specific traffic congestion or quality of life issues.

The Order Making Process
A formal TRO requires a statutory procedure to be followed. This includes:
1. Consultation – Following the completion of the design, consultation must be undertaken. This will require obtaining the views of Local Councillors and Parish Councils (where appropriate), the Emergency Services and sometimes other institutions such as The Freight Transport Association, The Road Haulage Association and local public transport operators. Local interest groups such as residents, traders and community groups who are likely to be affected by the proposals may also be consulted where appropriate. The proposal could then be amended following consultation.

2. Advertisement of the TRO then takes place. This includes at least one notice in the local press. DCC will usually display notices in any roads that are affected and, if it is deemed appropriate, may deliver notices to premises likely to be affected. For at least 21 days from the start of the notice the proposal can be viewed at a nominated council office during normal office hours. Objections to the proposals and comments of support must be made in writing to the address specified in the notice or submitted online during this period. Substantial objections and contentious issues are then reported to and considered by Local Councillors. When considering the objections they must decide whether to (a) allow the scheme to proceed as advertised, (b) modify the scheme, or (c) abandon it.

3.Making the Order – The TRO can then be formally sealed providing all standing objections have been considered. Modifications to the proposals resulting from objections could require further consultation. This procedure can take many months to complete and the advertising and legal fees can be substantial. For this reason schemes requiring a TRO normally need to be included in the annual Capital Programme and cannot be carried out on an ad hoc basis.

Occasionally temporary orders or experimental orders are introduced which require a slightly different process which still gives people an opportunity to put forward their views.

Temporary Orders may be used when works affecting the highway require short-term traffic restrictions.

Experimental Orders are used in situations that need monitoring and reviewing. These usually last no more than eighteen months before they are either abandoned, amended or made permanent.

Parking TROs
In May 2008 Devon County Council took over responsibility for the enforcement of parking restrictions and to assist with this all parking restrictions were consolidated into one countywide TRO.

Changes to this consolidation order are made through amendment orders. These amendment orders can change the articles (legal definitions of the restrictions) and/or the schedules (location descriptions).

See more at: http://www.devon.gov.uk/traffic-orders.htm#sthash.RGSXhXO9.dpuf

To search Devon County Council traffic orders and  make a comment about a traffic order please use the online traffic order search.

At Exeter HATOC, we are alway being told how expensive it is to draw up a Traffic Regulation Order and so I made the following Freedom of Information Request to Devon County Council:

I am interested in the component parts of drawing up a TRO and then implementing it

I realise that these costs will differ for different scheme, so I would like a such breakdown to look at a specific example of
Devon County Council (Various Streets, Exeter) (Control of Waiting) Amendment Order 2014

I would be grateful if the breakdown could include:
1) officer time drawing up the scheme

Officer time has not been recorded on this scheme but below is an example of charge-out rates for staff working on TROs.

Technician Range E                        £31 per hour
Senior Technician Range F          £37 per hour
Senior Officer Range H                 £48 per hour

The above rates for small non-complicated TRO (approx £700). If Committee reports and presentations are required then costs will rise accordingly.

2) costs involved with advertising the scheme

£764.49

3) costs involved with signage and painting yellow lines

£1,257.24

Screen shot 2015-07-26 at 19.04.20
FOI Request 3216696 | The cost of a TRO

Devon & Cornwall Police | FOI Request 6836/14

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Freedom of Information Act Request No: 6836/14

  1. Can you confirm if your force uses the thresholds as published in the “ACPO Speed Enforcement Policy Guidelines 2011 – 2015: Joining Forces for Safer Roads” version 3.0 document as a basis for policy influencing decisions on whether to prosecute motorists found speeding?  Section 9.6 has the relevant table and can be found here: http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/uniformed/2013/201305-uoba-joining-forces-safer-roads.pdf

2) If this is part of force policy and procedures are they treated as guidelines or are there any checks to prevent prosecutions under the thresholds given, such as review by a designated decision maker or is it solely on the discretion of the officer in case?

3) Can you confirm how many prosecutions or fixed penalty notices were issued to drivers that were below the threshold of speed awareness courses in the ACPO guidance (for example between 31-34MPH in a 30MPH limit or 51-56MPH in a 50MPH limit zone) since 2011 broken down by calendar year.

4) In addition to point 3, can you also include how many speed awareness courses were completed for speeds detected below the ACPO guidance for speed awareness courses, broken down by calendar year since 2011.

The Safety Camera Partnership and Central Ticket Unit have provided the following information:

1) Can you confirm if your force uses the thresholds as published in the “ACPO Speed Enforcement Policy Guidelines 2011 – 2015: Joining Forces for Safer Roads” version 3.0 document as a basis for policy influencing decisions on whether to prosecute motorists found speeding?  Section 9.6 has the relevant table and can be found here: http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/uniformed/2013/201305-uoba-joining-forces-safer-roads.pdf

Automated speed enforcement carried out by the Safety Camera Partnership complies with the current ACPO guidelines.  These guidelines do not replace a police officer’s discretion (paragraph 9.7 of the ACPO guidance) when dealing with a speeding offence.

 

2) If this is part of force policy and procedures are they treated as guidelines or are there any checks to prevent prosecutions under the thresholds given, such as review by a designated decision maker or is it solely on the discretion of the officer in case?

The current ACPO guidelines form part of the Devon & Cornwall police policy guidance on speed enforcement D116 – Speeding Offences – see link below:

http://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/FOI/Doc/88750058-64b9-4a39-99fe-3b43537fa2d5/p?D116.pdf

Police officers engaging in speed enforcement can exercise discretion applying a test of proportionality, consistency and justification.

3) Can you confirm how many prosecutions or fixed penalty notices were issued to drivers that were below the threshold of speed awareness courses in the ACPO guidance (for example between 31-34MPH in a 30MPH limit or 51-56MPH in a 50MPH limit zone) since 2011 broken down by calendar year.

4) In addition to point 3, can you also include how many speed awareness courses were completed for speeds detected below the ACPO guidance for speed awareness courses, broken down by calendar year since 2011.

For the Safety Camera Partnership the answer to both Q3 and 4 is none

Devon and Cornwall Police do not issue fixed penalty notices (FPN’s), these were replaced by OSCO’s (officer seen conditional offers) on 01/04/2013.

The Central Ticket Unit have confirmed that OSCO’s are only held for 12 months