This is an extraordinary development as far as I am concerned. Councils in the UK are using a little-known power to impose restrictions on certain kinds of behaviour which the council deems “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to others”.
To international readers, in the UK “councils” are local authorities. Research carried out by the Manifesto Club, a civil liberties campaign group, showed that last year in the UK councils issued over 10,000 fines – Community Protection Order Notices (CPN)- for breaches of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs). They were issued under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Councils can stop people carrying out certain activities which they deem to be detrimental to local residents. This can include all manner of things including feeding stray cats in your own garden! The council can issue £100 fine on the spot for this sort of behaviour.
It is the first time that I have read about what is, in effect, the criminalisation of the feeding of stray cats in the UK. A big problem with these low level orders, which appear to be occasionally misapplied is that it is a criminal offence not to comply with the order and the penalty for non-compliance might be, after prosecution, a fine of up to £2,500 for individuals and £20,000 for businesses. If the order is unfair it may encourage a disgruntled individual to ignore it.
Another problem is that councils are given quite strong powers which I would argue are sometimes beyond their capabilities to apply sensibly and the test for this form of antisocial behaviour is very low. In other words a person can drift into criminality when doing something kind such as feeding stray cats or in one instance a man, Glenn Upjohn, allowed homeless man to pitch a tent behind his semi detached house. He was told to clear the tent and all associated items from his property. Nobody had complained and Mr Upjohn said that he was “not in the business of shoving people out on the street when they’ve got nowhere to go.”
It is also difficult to appeal the orders and they are becoming “the powers of choice because they are so easy to use. Councils are not set up to be police, prosecutors, judges and jury”. These are the words of Josey Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club.
A freedom of information request produced figures for last year in respect of these orders which show that 202 councils in England and Wales issued 8,760 CPNs last year. This is an increase from 6,234 by 192 councils the previous year.
The Local Government Association defended the councils and their use of this power by saying that it is one way councils can tackle “persistent antisocial behaviour problems”.
Comment: I agree with that but the councils appear to be making bad judgements about how to apply it. Fining a person for feeding stray cats in their back garden seems to be a misapplication of the power.
In America, there is a persistent conflict in society about feeding feral and stray cats. A lot of people feel they have to do it because the animals are vulnerable and starving while others strongly disagree with it because they feel it reduces the neighbourhood’s amenity and attracts other animals with detrimental consequences with respect to health.