Update on Town Centre begging and anti-social behaviour

By Mick Scrimshaw on April 5, 2017

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Following complaints from residents about begging in the town centre I contacted KBC for an update on the situation.

We know there is a genuine issue with homelessness in Kettering. The numbers of people approaching the Council for help and the numbers of rough sleepers locally have risen a lot recently and I, along with my Labour colleagues, find this very concerning and have been calling on the Council to offer more help.

We support the Homelessness Reduction Bill which is going through Parliament at the moment and hope that if it is passed it will force Kettering Borough Council to do more, especially with those people that currently fall outside the statutory guidelines and as such don’t get offered accommodation, regardless of how severe their issues may be.

But I also recognise that begging is still a problem and even though I always had concerns about the new Public Spaces Protection Order that was brought in to deal with the issue last year because I was concerned (and still am) that the new powers may be used in a too heavy handed way. As we have these powers, until told differently, I am happy to assume that our Wardens have been trained to use common sense and sensitivity when dealing with these issues.

There seems no point for example issuing a Fixed Penalty fine to a genuine homeless person because clearly they would have to resort to begging to find the money to pay it... But we are told that a small proportion of the begging is by people who are not ‘genuinely homeless’, and so I asked exactly how the new powers are being used? How many warnings and fines have been issued for example and whether or not it is possible to quantify the number of people in genuine need against those who may not be and what support, help and advice is being offered to those in need.

I had also previously asked at a Town Forum meeting about the success rate of warnings; whether anyone who has received a formal warning then goes on to receive a fine for a second incident. I was promised a reply but haven’t yet had one.

The response I have received from KBC is below:

We and the police have expended a huge amount of time and effort on dealing with people begging and rough sleepers in the town centre recently, and – as there is an overlap – with street drinking offences. This has involved a combination of efforts

  • Supportive work – so for example, we have found accommodation for some rough sleepers, we have helped one person get themselves a job and are now helping him find a home
  • Disruption – the police make twice daily patrols to discourage some of the anti-social behaviour associated with those begging or sleeping rough, and KBC staff are authorised to remove materials left in doorways.  Wardens also speak regularly to all those on our radar – there are approximately 11 people we are dealing with  . We are going to review the layout of street furniture to see whether this can be arranged so as to better prevent some Anit Social Behavoir
  • Enforcement work – there are a variety of enforcement tools under the PSPO and more generally – we are working closely with the police to apply those as appropriate.  For example, we have issued a number of Fixed penalty notices for street drinking and a number of those have gone unpaid; we therefore took nine cases to court this week, and secured orders against eight people which ban them from drinking on street in the town centre for two years. These people were issued fines by the court and are liable for arrest if they offend again. The police have also made arrests for criminal offences committed by some of the people begging.

We are aware that this group of people present a number of challenges – some have mental health issues, some are drug users and a good proportion are not homeless. One or two of those who are homeless have consistently refused any help whatsoever, including during period of severe weather when we have a statutory duty to house them overnight.

We have also been working with a church group to provide an overnight shelter in town.

I have only scratched the surface in this note about what we are doing.  I think it might be useful for a more rounded report to be produced for a future meeting of Kettering Town Forum, to give wider assurance about what we are doing and how we are doing it.  Hence I have copied Shirley in. We are also committed to an annual review of the PSPO which is due in the early autumn to Executive Committee.

Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.

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