U-turn on plan to make rough sleeping a criminal offence in Hemel Hempstead

Rough sleepers now won't face a potential fine for sleeping in Hemel Hempstead town centre
Rough sleepers now won't face a potential fine for sleeping in Hemel Hempstead town centre

Homeless people have been spared being hit with a fine for sleeping rough – after council proposals were relaxed.

Rough sleepers faced being fined £75 or criminal proceedings for sleeping in areas of Hemel Hempstead town centre, which would see them hit with a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO).

But the council has decided to scrap those plans following new advice from the Home Office in December. The advice states: “PSPOs should not be used to target people based solely on the fact that someone is homeless, or rough sleeping, as this in itself is unlikely to mean that such behaviour is having an unreasonably detrimental effect on the community’s quality of life which justifies the restrictions imposed.”

But Councillor Janice Marshall, the cabinet member responsible for the PSPO scheme, told the Gazette: “I don’t think it was intended ever just on the basis that you’re homeless that we would make an order. It’s more about a behaviour from some people that may be intimidating.

“On reflection, it could be misunderstood as the council criminalising homeless people, and that was never ever the intention.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Adrian England believes the decision to backtrack is the right one.

He said: “I think a lot of people were upset about criminalising people down on their luck. It’s good that it’s been accepted that it should not happen, and I think the council would have seen there was government advice that people should not be victimised for being in an unfortunate position.”

Another proposal scrapped was a ban on feeding wild fowl in the PSPO area, which covers most of Marlowes and the High Street in Old Town.

But plans that will remain include bans on spitting, urinating and defecating – while people will not be allowed to cycle or skateboard in the proposed area.

People committing those acts could be hit in the pocket, and possibly in court.

Cllr Marshall added: “These areas left are still causing great concern to people and it seemed right that we should try to tackle this through the PSPOs.

“The PSPOs are something for officers to have in their back pocket when the powers of persuasion have failed. It’s about strengething their hand when they are dealing with people.”

However, the council itself admits that there is ‘limited resources for enforcement’ and it will have to be targeted at certain periods. Council papers add: “There will not always be immediate results which will be noticeable to the public.”

It’s left Cllr Adrian England wondering if there is any point in proceeding with ANY of the proposals.

He said: “There’s no budget to enforce this – it says in the report that enforcement will depend on resources, but also that there are no resources. It will end up going on the books but very little actually being done.”

The PSPO scheme will go through a scrutiny committee meeting this week, before the council’s cabinet formally agree to adopt the plans.

WHAT IS A PSPO?

PSPOs can be used by authorities to control problem behaviour in public areas. They can be issued if activities in a public place within the authority’s area have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality, or if it is likely to have such an effect.

Where a PSPO is in force, it is a criminal offence to do anything which is prohibited under the Order, or to fail to comply with requirements of the Order.

People guilty of flouting this can be fined up to £1,000 on conviction. Offences may also be disposed of by way of a fixed penalty payable to the local authority. PSPOs may be enforced by a police officer, PCSO, or a person authorised by the local authority for that purpose.

Herts Police have agreed to support the PSPO where resources allow, but it is expected that the council will lead on the enforcement of any orders made. A PSPO will be valid for a period of up to three years, at the end of which it may be extended.

> Do you agree with the PSPO scheme, and do you think it will make Hemel hempstead town centre a more pleasant place? Share your views by emailing thegazette@jpress.co.uk