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New guidelines issued on anti-social behaviour powers after ‘busybody’ warning

Particular concerns were raised around the use of the measures against the homeless, buskers and dog walkers.

The Home Office has drawn up new guidelines on the use of anti-social behaviour powers following warnings they are used to target dog walkers, buskers, rough sleepers or groups gathering to chat in town centres.

Ministers are issuing the best practice guide to councils and police in an effort to ensure an array of measures are applied appropriately.

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced six powers to help local agencies tackle conduct that blights communities and neighbourhoods.

But the legislation has come under fire from campaigners, who argue it has created a “busybody” approach as orders are used in some cases to restrict lawful and reasonable behaviour.

Critics have particularly focused on Public Spaces Protection Orders.

Earlier this year figures showed scores of councils have imposed the measures, while hundreds of fines have been issued for violations such as playing music too loudly in cars and not having a dog on a lead.

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(Owen Humpheys/PA)

The Home Office said the new guidance follows feedback from charities and other groups that the orders were being used to disproportionately target certain groups in some areas rather than focusing on behaviour that is genuinely anti-social and causing others distress or alarm.

Particular concerns were raised around the use of the measures against the homeless, buskers, dog walkers, and, in some cases, people simply gathering together in small groups in town centres who were not engaged in anti-social behaviour.

The revised guidelines state: “Given that these orders can restrict what people can do and how they behave in public spaces, it is important that the restrictions imposed are focused on specific behaviours and are proportionate to the detrimental effect that the behaviour is causing or can cause, and are necessary to prevent it from continuing, occurring or recurring.”

Authorities can also impose a community protection notice to deal with conduct that is having a detrimental effect on an area’s quality of life.

The guidance highlights how the issuing officer must make a judgment as to whether the behaviour in question is unreasonable.

“For instance, a baby crying in the middle of the night may well have a detrimental effect on immediate neighbours and is likely to be persistent in nature,” it says.

“However, it is unlikely to be reasonable to issue the parents with a Community Protection Notice if there is not a great deal that they can do to control or affect the behaviour.”

The Government said the guidance puts greater emphasis on the need to ensure the powers under the Act are used to target specific nuisance behaviours and are not applied in a blanket way against specific groups or non-anti-social behaviour.

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Anti-social behaviour harms communities and can severely impact people’s way of life, which is why this Government introduced powers to make it quicker and easier to take action against the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour.

“We know that these powers are being used to very good effect by the police and local councils across England and Wales, and we are very keen to encourage their continued use.

“But we are also clear that the powers should be used proportionately to tackle anti-social behaviour, and not to target specific groups or the most vulnerable in our communities.

“The revised guidance published today will empower local agencies by providing even greater clarity on where and when these powers should be applied, helping them to keep our public spaces, communities and families safe.”

Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Many anti-social behaviour offences are serious issues for local residents and businesses, and councils are keen to protect them from offenders who can make the lives of those they target a misery.

“Councils will take a proportionate approach to using the tools at their disposal to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

“We look forward to studying the revised guidance on how best to use these powers in a consistent, fair and transparent way to tackle genuine nuisance behaviour to protect people from distress or alarm.

“Powers such as Public Spaces Protection Orders are used following public consultation in response to local concerns.

“Like any other council service, they are also subject to scrutiny by democratically elected councillors and can be amended if needed.”

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