A draft proposal which would criminalise begging and loitering in the city centre has been criticised for marginalising the homeless by charities and the public. 

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has received backlash that it will drive homelessness into other parts of the city rather than addressing its causes.

The policy, which is open to public consultation, has been pitched by the council to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Benjamin Archer, a law lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University who specialises in anti-social behaviour and public space management, said: “PSPO’s are a tool to deal with symptoms of behaviour rather than addressing its root causes.

“They disproportionately target vulnerable groups through financial penalties and open them up to a cycle of criminality.”

The PSPO is designed to crack down on antisocial activities, but many issues such as drug-taking and public drinking are already covered by other laws. 

This has led to the view that the policy’s only purpose is to tackle begging and loitering which are not currently illegal. 

As part of the PSPO, temporary structures such as tents would be banned, while anyone sleeping rough could be charged for ‘loitering’.

The Archer Project, a charity for homeless people based at the Cathedral, said: “If people are without accommodation, excluding them from the city centre will only lead to homelessness elsewhere and the city doesn’t want that either.”

Sheffield residents react to the PSPO

The PSPO will be enforced through fixed penalty notices, and would encompass everywhere within the ring road as well as the train station.

Proposed boundaries of the PSPO (source: Sheffield City Council)

Councillor Ben Miskell, Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee, said: “I don’t think there’s necessarily any evidence that introducing PSPO’s moves the issue of antisocial behaviour outside of a city centre.

“We do need to take a very firm line on antisocial behaviour and make sure our city centre is safe for everyone.”

PSPO’s have been introduced in cities such as Doncaster and Barnsley since the government repealed the Vagrancy Act in 2022, which removed begging as a prosecutable offence. 

Sheffield previously tried to implement one in 2019, but it was dropped after failing to gain public support and meeting similar criticisms from charities. 

The council will be taking public opinions on the policy until 25 March.